Ryan McDonald

Manhattan Beach teens drive money to charity showing eye-catching autos

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Max Berger, Jake Johnson, Dimitri Pouliopoulous, Ty Dillman, and Maxwell Baumer get comfortable with sleek new Tesla. Photo by Denise Berger

by Ryan McDonald

The keepers of South Bay Exotics may have only recently gotten their driver’s licenses, but they are big believers in the maxim, “Keep your eyes on the road.” But the five Manhattan Beach teenagers aren’t just looking for hazards; they’re keeping an eye out for the coolest cars they can find.

Maxwell Baumer, Max Berger, Ty Dillman, Jake Johnson and Dimitri Pouliopolous are the high school students behind South Bay Exotics, a car-centric Instagram account with nearly 25,000 followers. They host periodic local events for auto aficionados, and will be hosting their largest gathering yet this weekend: Coffee and Cars for a Cause. The event, to be held Saturday at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, will raise money for Chrysalis, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that aids homeless people with, what else, transportation issues.

The quintet had humble beginnings.They initially found their chosen vehicles on skateboards and bikes. (Their moms acted as “designated drivers.”) Once they got their driver’s licenses, their search expanded. Among their favored locations for finding exotic cars is the parking lot of the Trancas Country Market on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. But they remain committed to heightening local automotive enthusiasm.

“We’re really all around Los Angeles now, but our overall goal is to build community in the South Bay,” Berger said.

Initially, the group was concerned that they would have a hard time getting people to agree to have their car photographed. They are always mindful of owners’ privacy, but they have found that many of the car owners they encounter are surprisingly willing.

“A lot of people who have classic cars, they don’t have 17-year-old kids appreciating them all the time,” Poulioupolous said.

Each member of the crew has different things they look for in choosing cars to feature; there is no overarching style, and they try to feature a mix of new and classics. While the group occasionally disagrees, what often pushes a selection over the edge, they said, is if the owner has a personal story associated with the car.

Taking on the project has taught the teens several skills. The images appearing on their account now have a professional sheen, the result, they say, of gradually immersing themselves in photography. They have also improved their social media capabilities, learning about Internet marketing to grow to their current size. While out in Beverly Hills once, they captured a video of a Lamborghini Veneno Roadster — one of only nine in the world — cruising Rodeo Drive. The video has since accumulated more than 1 million views on YouTube.

Looking ahead to the charity event this Saturday, the group hopes that they are able to link people’s passion for cars to a good cause.  Their project has put them in touch with famous car buffs like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, and they are continually surprised by just how deep enthusiasm runs.

“The area is pretty small so you wouldn’t think it, but the citizens of the South Bay have these pretty amazing cars,” Johnson said.

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